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This week, Democracy Now! is celebrating our 22nd birthday. Since our first show in February 1996, our daily news hour has brought you fearless journalism and hard-hitting news you can trust--all without ads or corporate underwriting. How is this possible? Only with your support. In fact, if everyone reading this gave just $4, it would cover our operating expenses for the whole year. Right now, a generous donor will TRIPLE every donation, meaning your gift today will go three times as far. Pretty amazing, right? Please do your part. Take a moment to give right now for our 22nd birthday.
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In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has called on supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi to join a nationwide “Day of Rage” today to protest the killings of hundreds of people in a crackdown that began with raids on two Cairo sit-ins. According to the Health Ministry, the death toll from Wednesday’s violence has risen to 638, with thousands more wounded. On Thursday, the government authorized security forces to use live ammunition to defend themselves and public buildings.
President Obama responded to the situation in Egypt from Martha’s Vineyard where he is on vacation. He condemned the violence but stopped short of calling Morsi’s ouster last month a coup or announcing any cuts to the $1.5 billion a year of mostly military aid to Egypt.
President Obama: “While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back. As a result, this morning we notified the Egyptian government that we are canceling our biannual joint military exercise, which was scheduled for next month. Going forward, I’ve asked my national security team to assess the implications of the actions taken by the interim government and further steps that we may take, as necessary, with respect to the U.S.-Egyptian relationship.”
Later Thursday, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the administration is reviewing aid to Egypt “in all forms.” We’ll get an update from Cairo with Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous later in the broadcast.
The Washington Post reports the National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since it was given broad new spy powers by Congress in 2008. In a separate Washington Post story, the leader of the secret court that is supposed to oversee the spy programs says its ability to do so is limited and that it must trust the government to report when it improperly spies on Americans. We’ll have more on this story with the ACLU’s Alex Abdo after headlines.
Reuters is reporting Edward Snowden began downloading documents related to widespread U.S. spying while working for Dell last April, almost a year earlier than has previously been reported. Prior stories have focused on Snowden’s subsequent three-month stint with contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Meanwhile, Snowden said in a letter to The Huffington Post Thursday that people associated with his father have, in his words, “misled” journalists into “printing false claims about my situation.” Snowden said neither his father, Lon Snowden, nor his father’s lawyer, Bruce Fein, nor Fein’s wife and spokesperson, Mattie Fein, represent him “in any way.” Lon Snowden has announced plans to travel to Russia to be with his son.
In Lebanon, a car bomb tore through a busy area in a southern suburb of the capital Beirut Thursday, killing at least 22 people. The area is a stronghold for the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, raising fears the Syrian conflict is continuing to spread beyond its borders. A Sunni group claimed responsibility and threatened more attacks against Hezbollah.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about Israel’s approval of two new rounds of settlement homes amid ongoing peace talks with the Palestinians. Ban made the comments during a visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Ban Ki-moon: “I remain deeply troubled by Israel’s continuing settlement activity in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Settlement activity is deepening the Palestinian people’s mistrust in the seriousness on the Israeli side toward achieving a peace. It will ultimately render a two-state solution impossible.”
The commission that issues sentencing guidelines to federal judges has unanimously voted to consider softening its framework for drug offenses. The panel voted to work with Congress to reduce the “severity and scope” of mandatory minimum sentences and said it would assess its own guidelines regarding prison terms based on certain amounts of drugs. In a statement, the commission said, “Drug offenders account for nearly half of all federal inmates, and an adjustment to the Drug Quantity Tables in the sentencing guidelines could have a significant impact on sentence lengths and prison populations.” Attorney General Eric Holder signaled a major shift on sentencing this week, including instructing federal prosecutors to sidestep mandatory minimums for some drug offenses.
A group sympathetic to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad disrupted traffic on the Washington Post website Thursday. The breach saw some readers redirected to the website of the Syrian Electronic Army, the same group that claimed credit for hacking the Twitter account of the Associated Press earlier this year. The issue stemmed from the infiltration of an ad network called Outbrain which the Post uses to generate story recommendations for readers. CNN and Time also use Outbrain and reported more minor effects from the hack. On Wednesday, the New York Times website went down for about two hours, but company officials cited technical issues from routine maintenance.
The Pentagon has unveiled new measures to address the epidemic of sexual assault in the military. The efforts include giving legal representation to victims, requiring the Pentagon’s inspector general to review cases that are closed, and empowering commanders to reassign soldiers accused of assault. But the reforms do not address the key question of whether to remove the fate of sexual assault cases from the military chain of command. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and others want to wrest that control from military commanders, instead letting independent military prosecutors decide if a case goes to trial. A Pentagon survey estimated 26,000 people were sexually assaulted in the armed forces last year. The number of actually reported sexual assaults for the Pentagon’s 2012 fiscal year was roughly 3,400. Of those, only 190 were sent to a court-martial proceeding.
Ecuador has dropped a plan to preserve swaths of the Amazon rainforest from oil drilling by having wealthy countries pay them not to drill. In a speech Thursday, President Rafael Correa said the plan to save parts of Yasuni National Park had raised only a fraction of the money sought. “The world has failed us,” he said. Nearly half of oil produced by Ecuador goes to the United States.
A new report commissioned by the Pentagon has found none of the 107 nuclear reactors in the United States are adequately secured against a potential terrorist attack. According to the report, the current level of security required of civilian-run reactors fails to guard against an onslaught by any more than a small number of attackers. Among the most vulnerable reactors listed is one less than 25 miles from the White House.
The Dream Defenders are ending their occupation of the Florida State Capitol after 31 days. They entered the suite of Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott three days after the acquittal of George Zimmerman to call for the repeal of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law which delayed Zimmerman’s arrest for killing Trayvon Martin and affected instructions to the jury. The group claimed a number of victories, including a promise from House Speaker Will Weatherford to hold a hearing on the law this fall, although Governor Scott rebuffed their demands for a special session. They have announced plans to register the amount of voters by which Governor Scott won the election in 2010. The group’s executive director, Phillip Agnew, spoke Thursday.
Phillip Agnew: “And so it is now that I am proud to announce that our work and our power has grown too big for these halls, and that it’s time for the movement to continue, and that this is the last time that I’m going to sleep on any floor. And so, as we announced just last week, I’d like to reaffirm our intent to register 61,550 voters in the state of Florida, because we will indeed never forget.”